Jekyll and Hyde Personality Traits!!

When you apply for a job (or promotion) employers and recruiters use various criteria to assess the suitability and effectiveness of each person for the role - their aim is to get the ‘right fit’ for the job.

One popular way is to assess the personality traits of each applicant. Before they do that employers look at the job and select personality traits that fit the role. For example, if the person is expected to work with customers on a regular basis then the level of agreeableness might be tested. Or, for a project co-ordinator, organisational traits will be checked.

Because it is important to get this right many organisations invest a huge amount of time choosing specific traits for each role and (usually expensive) tools to measure them.

The thing to remember is that some traits that are highly sought after, and generally seen as positive, can have a less attractive side (and there are some traits that are seen as negative but which have a positive side to them as well!).

For example, self-confidence, resilience and fearlessness, “produce bold leaders who perform well on the job” but they are also seen as “only a few degrees from anti-social behaviour” (Psychology Today, Sept/Oct 2013).

Before we dive into specifics and to help you get a better understanding of this topic take some time to read the following definitions used to explain and describe personality:

  • trait: the distinguishable quality of an individuals’ nature;
  • characteristic: a distinguishable attribute that helps to identify traits;
  • character: a group of characteristics possessed by an individual (these are often influenced by values and / or beliefs);
  • personality: the visible aspect of one’s character (these are also influenced by our genes and mostly immutable).

When we describe ourselves to other people, whether during an interview or in a social situation, we create our own self-image using personality traits (and other factors) to do this - even if we are not aware of it.

So it might be worth putting yourself in your manager’s (or interviewer’s) shoes and rethink what you consider to be a strength!!!

Personal strengths - good or bad?

  • Excellence: We all want to excel at what we do but, if this is our goal, it could lead to paralysing perfectionism. People who describe themselves as “perfectionists” may also be rigid, restricting productivity, creativity, risk taking and experimentation. Many successful entrepreneurs say that true innovation requires failure so that we can learn from mistakes.
  • Fairness: People are “scorekeepers by instinct.” Being seen as fair and unbiased is seen as a positive trait. However, it is usually better that the process is fair rather than the outcome. Why? Well, as they say, “exceptional workers should be treated exceptionally … otherwise motivation is extinguished.”
  • Agreeableness: This is one of the ‘Big 5’ traits that most employers apply as part of their assessment process. Agreeable people are seen as “trusting, helpful, modest, altruistic, generous and willing to compromise.”  However it is too simplistic to expect  a life without conflict and if someone is too agreeable it can suggest a lack of assertiveness. Alternative views is that they use modesty to hide their own insecurity.
  • Collaborators: Some people “welcome input from others and aim for consensus.” This can be empowering, increasing diversity and creating buy-in from the group. However, if over used it can diminish accountability and delay decision making. If your organisation values collaboration it may devalue people who work best in isolation.
  • Selfishness: This is an interesting one because the flip side to this is being a “people pleaser” who cannot say “no” to anyone. Begin selfish (i.e. taking care of your own needs first) eliminates stress for the individual however, you need to be aware of the impact on others if it is taken to extremes.
  • Sensitivity: This is applies to people who have a difficult time with criticism and / or taking things personally. Clearly this can cause problems at work as it may stop colleagues and managers from giving meaningful feedback. On the plus side, it can mean the individual is sensitive to the feelings of others - and being empathetic is a highly desirable trait at work and often one held by the diplomat in a team.
  • Shyness / introverts: This trait describes individuals who find it difficulty engaging with strangers and with large groups of people for very different reasons. An introvert enjoys time alone and gets emotionally drained after spending a lot of time with others. A shy person doesn't necessarily want to be alone but is afraid to interact with others. Whatever the driver both are very reflective and often the ones who come up with the great solutions. They like to work alone, accomplish a great deal and don’t need approval and praise from others - a real plus in a busy work environment.

I could go on and give many more examples (confident or arrogant; daring or risky; persuasive or domineering; cautious or anxious; visionary or day dreamer …) but the key message to take away is that all personality traits have a positive aspect that, with overuse, can tip your performance in the wrong direction.

So, be alert when you are being interviewed for a new job or promotion and:

  1. Clarify the key elements of the role and what sort of person is needed they are looking for (you should be able to get this from the job description).
  2. Compare your own personality traits to the new role and see where your strengths and weak spots are.
  3. Prepare your answers to potential questions around the traits they are looking for - acknowledge the weak spots and show them how you are able to learn or compensate as needed.